RPS school board discusses lunch service concerns, attendance policy

Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 7:07 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2021 at 11:18 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Richmond Public School Board met on Monday evening to address the backlash the district has received over its lunch and attendance policy.

It was a long night for RPS School Board members as they worked through the packed agenda. Many of the hot topics, such as the future of the School Resource Officer Program, were pushed to next week. The board did touch upon the district’s attendance and absence policy, while getting into a nearly hour-long discussion over school meals.

For weeks, school cafeterias have been serving “cold lunch items,” such as sandwiches or bags of chips. One RPS parent alleged her son was only given cheese sticks, a fruit cup, and a few strawberries for lunch. This has led to frustration as some parents question the quality of the lunches their children are eating.

Richmond School Board Vice-Chair Jonathan Young said the district first switched to this method of food at the beginning of the pandemic as a COVID-19 precaution.

“Last week, the administration said this would change. It had not changed. Lunch today at [Thomas Jefferson] was partially frozen,” said parent Betsy Milburn, who even brought along a frozen piece of her child’s meal for the board to see.

Superintendent Jason Kamras said they will take action as soon as Tuesday, and that the district has instructed its vendor about certain items that are not acceptable that should be pulled from the menu.

Board member Mariah White then suggested dropping the current vendor immediately for a local vendor, while the district staffs schools to get the lunches up to a higher standard through an emergency contract.

“We already know that there’s not enough staff to prepare hot meals, and the food is still going to be the same whether its cold or hot. Right now, the kids are getting cold food, and it’s not good food,” White said.

Ultimately, the motion was shot down in a 5 to 4 vote, but superintendent Kamras mentioned two phases the district would implement to improve the meals.

“For pre-schools and elementary schools, we will transition to a meal that has a heated entree - heated in an oven, with other fresh items. Then to fresh-cooked lunches. At the middle and high school levels, the plan is to go straight to our fresh, cooked hot lunches.”

RPS will need to hire a little less than 100 new employees to staff their kitchens, preparing hot meals for students to eat. Kitchen supervisors will also need to fill out a “quality checklist,” documenting what the staff is feeding the children at schools and make sure no child is receiving a less-than-satisfactory lunch.

As for the truancy policy, there was a recommendation to waive part of policy 8-2.4, which states students who miss 18 or more days would be held back or have to re-take a class.

Opponents to the clause say it should be relaxed this year because of COVID-19 protocols, which encouraged students to stay home to avoid exposure. Some board expressed concerns to make sure students are out of school for the right reasons, and not take advantage if the policy was waived.

“I do think that the policy, rather than just suspended, should be modified and that if there is a suspension, it be limited to students with health-related reasons rather than a wholescale elimination of the rule,” said board member Kenya Gibson.

That discussion was ultimately tabled for the next meeting.

Kamras did provide an update about George Wythe High School: The district has hired a construction project manager, with a start date of Oct. 7. They still have two more roles to fill.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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